279. Editorial Note

From late 1970 through late 1972, the Nixon administration and the Department of State tentatively accepted, then postponed, a visit by the Dalai Lama. In a December 26, 1970, memorandum sent through Under Secretary U. Alexis Johnson to Secretary of State William Rogers, Marshall Green and Joseph Sisco wrote that “We believe that notwithstanding the risk of irritating Peking we should approve a private, strictly non-political visit to the United States by the Dalai Lama next spring. Our concerns regarding possible politicking by the Dalai Lama during a US visit are less than they were last year, when an October visit was proposed.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 30 TIBET) On January 13, 1971, Rogers suggested that President Nixon approve a visit in the spring of 1972 “solely for educational and cultural purposes.” (Ibid.) Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s brother, and Ernest Gross, a lobbyist for the Tibetans, spearheaded the effort to arrange a visit. (Memorandum from Jenkins to Green, January 26; ibid.)

While no action was taken on Rogers’ January 13 memorandum, Executive Secretary of the Department of State Theodore Eliot sent a February 18 memorandum to Henry Kissinger, noting that Gyalo Thondup had visited the Department of State and “indicated that the Dalai Lama did not plan to visit the United States this spring and perhaps not at all this year.” Eliot suggested that, if the Dalai Lama did renew his request, that it be approved, subject to three conditions: “a) it should be a private visit, b) we expected the issue of Tibet’s political status would not arise, and c) the Dalai Lama could not expect to make courtesy calls on USG officials higher than Under Secretary Alexis Johnson, i.e., our highest Foreign Service career official.” He concluded: “We realize that Peking may register some irritation at a visit at any time, but we believe that it can be handled so as to avoid a major adverse impact on the Sino-US dialogue.” (Ibid.) After reviewing a February 23 memorandum by John Holdridge of the NSC staff summarizing the plan for a proposed visit, Kissinger wrote to Eliot on March 1 that “A visit under the conditions specified in the memorandum would be acceptable.” (Both ibid., NSC Files, Country Files, Middle East, India, Box 600, Dalai Lama (possible 1971)) On March 9 Johnson wrote to Gross: “As I stated the other day over the telephone, we would be happy to discuss arrangements for a private visit by His Holiness The Dalai Lama to the United States early next year after the forthcoming session of the United Nations General Assembly.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 30 TIBET)

In a July 22 meeting with Kissinger and President Nixon to discuss Sino-American relations, Rogers stated: “We have the Dalai Lama scheduled for the spring sometime, we ought to postpone that, I’ll take [Page 1151] care of that.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation among Nixon, Rogers, and Kissinger, July 22, 1971, 3:49–5:05 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 543–1) On August 27 Green wrote to Johnson that “We believe that the PRC might take offense at a Dalai Lama visit to the U.S. prior to or immediately following President Nixon’s trip to Peking.” On the same day, Green drafted a memorandum from Eliot to Kissinger, suggesting that the visit be postponed until late 1972 or early 1973. (Both ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 TIBET) Jeanne W. Davis of the NSC staff replied to Eliot on September 21: “Dr. Kissinger concurs in your recommendation that Under Secretary Johnson take the steps necessary to postpone the Dalai Lama’s visit to the U.S. The trip should now be considered for early 1973.” (Ibid.) Johnson reported that “In September 22 telecon between Under Secretary Johnson and Ernest Gross, it was agreed that recent developments have created situation in which visit to U.S. by Dalai Lama could be misinterpreted from political point of view and will, therefore, be postponed.” (Telegram 178762 to New Delhi, September 28; ibid., POL 30 TIBET)

In an October 5, 1972, memorandum to Kissinger, Eliot reported that “We have just received an inquiry from Mr. Ernest Gross, our former Ambassador to the UN, and Chairman of the Tibetan Foundation, whether we are agreeable to a non-political visit to the U.S. by His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the spring of 1973.” Eliot suggested approval of the visit, noting that “Given the fact that we have already twice put off such plans, a further postponement, in the absence of some overriding reason, would be viewed as a slight by the Tibetans and could create a harmful impression on Buddhists elsewhere.” (Ibid., POL 7 TIBET) Holdridge forwarded the memorandum to Kissinger under an October 10 covering memorandum. He recommended that the visit be approved, but no action was taken. According to a November 14 memorandum to Haig from Holdridge, Haig had suggested that a decision be delayed until mid-November. Holdridge again recommended approval of the visit and noted that U. Alexis Johnson urged an affirmative response. Although the November 14 memorandum was addressed to Haig, Kissinger initialed the disapproval line. A handwritten comment by Haig reads: “This could drive our New York friends wild.” (Both ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Country Files, Middle East, India, Box 600, Dalai Lama (possible 1971)) On November 18 James Hackett of the NSC staff sent the following memorandum to Eliot: “The proposed visit to the United States by the Dalai Lama for non-political purposes has been given careful consideration and, in light of the current world situation, has been disapproved at this time.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 TIBET)